Earlier this week we celebrated JJ’s 5th birthday. As I was typing out the annual “I’m so proud to be your mom and it all started here” Facebook birthday post, I realized how not-so-difficult my pregnancy was. It was rough, absolutely, and he was at risk during most of the pregnancy but was he in any real danger? Not really. Did I lose any hope for that pregnancy? No.
Despite the stroke, brain surgery / procedures, and relearning how to walk and dress, I really enjoyed my pregnancy; even though I was an emotional wreck, grieving, scared out of my mind and just overall unsure about everything. I didn’t know how strong I was or what I was capable of as a mother or person. My character is actually pretty weak. I’m a slacker and I’ve always lacked foresight. It’s really quite astounding that I’m here and functioning, given what was expected of me and how many of those expectations I’ve actually met.
I met a woman once, a nurse who worked in triage. I was there for a blinding migraine. She asked about my affected side and brace. Usually, when I quickly toss out that I had a stroke, the conversation goes one of two ways: they fall quiet and contemplate how to proceed, or they start asking questions right away. I don’t expect anyone to tell me they had one too. I also don’t expect to feel patronized by a nurse who walked out of her hospital room after a short period of time post-stroke. We all recover at our own rates and the reason/s can be complicated when broken down into its many groups but it all boils down to one point:
No two injuries are the same.
I believe I’ve said it before but just in case, I’ll say it again. Recovering from stroke is a lot like being pregnant. Going through the initial recovery process while pregnant magnifies the experience of both. When a woman is pregnant, her brain is altered because of hormonal changes. A stroke changes the chemical makeup of your brain (any brain injury does). The emotional rollercoaster for each is unavoidable even if you’re fortunate enough to get put in a short line on the kiddie ride.
For some, pregnancy/stroke recovery is a horrifying and dizzying experience; you just want off this ride but you’re stuck screaming for mom in terror the entire time.
And it doesn’t really matter who’s on the ride with you because you’re all experiencing it differently even if it seems similar on the outside. Everyone has their own seat. Everyone has a different view, a different vibration of the rails, and a different personality; each providing for a different attitude on this crazy ride.
What does 5 years mean?
So, 5 years ago I honestly thought I was handling my stroke recovery pretty well. I thought I had my “grieving period” while in inpat rehab. I cried for days. When my counsellor told me I was experiencing grief I felt like the center piece of my small puzzle was found. It made sense. I felt so much loss but was surprisingly unaware of the emotion this loss is attached to.
I did everything doctors told me to from therapy at home every night to not taking up cigarettes again. I had two or three emotional breakdowns but I was moving towards independence every day. I took showers alone, dressed myself most days , and eventually gained enough stable balance to lower myself onto a toilet.
I had JJ mostly naturally. By mostly naturally I mean: I had a lot of drugs before letting a baby wiggle himself through the birth canal. I was not allowed to push because my brain injury was too fresh. As a result I had what’s called a passive fetal descent, or delayed pushing. I guess it’s a new thing that’s still being researched. If you look it up, you’ll find a lot of “active vs. delayed” studies, brief highlights, and scholarly articles but not much on the actual process. At least, not that I could ever find.
My doctors battled over this decision and I was stuck in the middle. My ob/gyn and my maternal fetal specialist couldn’t agree on how to handle my delivery. I had no neurologist to provide insight so I resorted to good old-fashioned gut instinct. I have no problems with c-sections when they’re necessary, it’s definitely not something to judge a mother for (I don’t understand the drama around this conversation at all), but I find them terrifying and am forever grateful that I have been fortunate enough to never experience one. My gut said no to c-section and try this passive delivery thing.
So I did.
And it was amazing. There was a lot of drama in that room for a lot of reasons. I don’t know how Kasper has forgiven me for what happened, I’m not sure he’s honest when he says he has either. I’m still upset with MIL for being ignorantly selfish, yet again (which I’m sure is selfish of me to say), and I’ll forever harbor a bit of spite for everything that mom and Stilla pushed me to do. When a woman is in the delivery room, she is not supposed to be the last person considered and neither is the father of the soon-to-be-born baby and yet that’s exactly what happened.
Without my husband at my side, I gave birth in the most spectacular way. I was full of fear and excitement, anger and joy. I was a curious spectator at my own sons birth. Words cannot express everything I felt as I sat with my legs up and apart, my eyes glued to the mirror in front of me with my eyes on my son’s crowning head as a nurse waited anxiously and nervously for him to make his way calmly into her hands. I laughed uncontrollably at my nurse who kept screaming for the doctor to come. The other nurses laughed at my laughter. The harder I laughed, the further JJ moved out of me. We made remarks on the queerness of it all just as el Jefe rounded the corner. We all laughed at him (he was so stupidly late) and JJ plopped into his hands with laughter all around him, the loudest coming from me.
I soon discovered that I was terribly limited as a mother. This realization that I will never be the mommy I suddenly wanted to be struck me so intensely that…it’s a good thing I was still in shock from having a stroke in the first place. I always had the expected concerns: Will I be able to dress him, bathe him, change his diapers? What will feedings be like? But they never had weight to them before.
I was only able to breastfeed two times and the nurse took him during the second feeding because I started to cry. It was terrible. I did not have a good nursing staff. I felt belittled and constantly pushed around. I had no one to teach me how to do this with not only one hand but with my other arm not cooperating. The nurse kept putting her hands in my way. I wasn’t bothered by her getting up on my boob but with the fact she wouldn’t let me try to get comfortable first. It made me really apprehensive and tense which made everyone’s job, including JJ’s, unnecessarily difficult.
I kept him in my room the first night until 3 or 4 a.m. with supervision. I couldn’t let him go. The night nurse sat with me as I held my little guy not realizing all of the struggles about to face me. It amazes me now how ignorant I was to all of it.
Shock is an amazing thing. It’s like a force field that repels every unwanted anything. You see it coming towards you, you see people react to the way you deflect it without flinching as if you’re some magician and yet none of it registers until long afterwards. I didn’t get why nurses “commended” me for being “strong” because I didn’t have a true understanding of the situation I was in. My disability evaluations were odd to me at the time, especially the mental evaluation. I attempted to shrug off the questions of anxiety and depression with quick explanations of the pregnancy. I told them directly that I can’t tell what is stroke related and what isn’t.
I just know I have to do what doctors tell me because it’s best for my baby.
And that’s how I made it through my pregnancy but it was merely shock that allowed me to survive it all, I think. I didn’t have the option to give into fear more than I already had…until I had the baby.
And that’s what 5 years means
I tried my best to be involved, to not let the stroke and resulting disabilities get at me but the harder I tried the worse everything got for me. Having JJ meant I was now alone. My support was gone, my shield was gone, my well of strength hadn’t just run dry but someone sealed over it. I needed a new source. It’s 5 years later and I still haven’t found a source as powerful as my pregnancy. Everything I pinned on the pregnancy was just another aspect of the stroke I was protecting myself from. I loved my pregnancy but everything around it was so absolutely miserable that I created a thick veil to shield us from it all. It didn’t register to anyone that the “strength” everyone saw was nothing but a mindless motion forward.
Five years mean 5 years of a lifted veil, a worn down shield and exposed excuses. It’s 5 years of living with the choice to accept what I cannot be and work hard every day to be everything I can be. I fail a lot in many ways but I’m still here
And I made it to my baby’s fifth birthday, a day I once feared he would spend without me.
To read a slightly more detailed post on my passive delivery experience, click here